(2nd LD) Choo Shin-soo belts 1st homer in KBO

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INCHEON, April 8 (Yonhap) — After hitting 218 home runs over 16 years in the majors, Choo Shin-soo has now homered for the first time in South Korea.

The new outfielders for the SSG Landers launched a solo home run off Hanwha Eagles’ starter Nick Kingham in the bottom of the third inning of their Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) regular season game on Thursday. The no-doubter traveled 115 meters into right field seats at Incheon SSG Landers Field in Incheon, 40 kilometers west of Seoul.

That one swing took care of a lot of firsts for Choo: in addition to being Choo’s first KBO home run, it was also his first hit and gave him his first RBI and first run in the Korean league.

Choo, the 2018 American League All-Star for the Texas Rangers, had gone 0-for-10 with two walks prior to Thursday’s game and had reached on an error in the first inning of this contest.

“I feel like I should have made it here (to the postgame press conference as the Player of the Game) earlier in the season,” Choo said after the game. “I wanted to do something early in the season, and I was feeling some pressure because things weren’t going my way. I want to thank my teammates because they played so well in the first three games while I was struggling.”

Choo came up in the third inning with two outs and nobody on, and the Landers were up 1-0. He ambushed Kingham on the first-pitch changeup and, as he has done throughout his career, kept his head down and ran around the bases without showing any emotion, even as fans in the stands and his teammates in the dugout erupted in cheers.

“Anyone can get excited when they’re doing well or get down on themselves when they’re slumping. You just have to stay composed,” Choo said. “I prefer to keep on an even keel. That’s what I learned while playing baseball alongside some great players in America.”

Choo added an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth inning, tying the score at 4-4 after the Landers had given up four runs in the top fourth. Choo popped out to third base in his final plate appearance in the bottom seventh.

He ended the day 2-for-4 with two RBIs, and the Landers took the game 6-4.

Choo arrived in the KBO with much fanfare, not only as the highest-paid player in league history, making 2.7 billion won (US$2.4 million) this season, but as the most accomplished South Korean position player ever in the majors. He leads all Asian players with 218 home runs and 782 RBIs.

Those impressive credentials also put pressure on the 38-year-old to perform right out of the gate and be the savior for a franchise that recently underwent ownership change on the heels of a dismal 2020 campaign. The SK Wyverns, the Landers’ previous incarnation, finished ninth among 10 teams last year, and Choo is expected to carry the new-look club to greater heights in 2021.

The Landers will now be hoping the solo shot will open the floodgates for Choo, who only two years ago set his major league career high with 24 home runs.

Choo admitted he was feeling the weight of those expectations, and getting the first one out of the way helped him feel “more relaxed” at the plate.

“I made some solid contact (in previous games), and I just wasn’t getting hits,” Choo said. “I was seeing the ball well. I was hitting the ball out in front of the plate, even though I was trying to go the other way. I think I am still in the process of adjusting to pitching here.”

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